Five thoughts after Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway…
1. At long last, Logano has reason to squint again
Joey Logano was strangely irrelevant last year, falling off the map after his encumbered Richmond win. It was hard to understand what happened to that team, which had previously looked like it would be perennial contenders and perhaps even become the next 48 team (I actually thought that for awhile).
But those problems seem mostly fixed now. Logano came into Talladega second in the point standings and left in the same position, except now with a win to lock him into the playoffs.
The Team Penske driver is far from a fan favorite — he gets more boos than cheers, to be sure — but a winning Logano is good for the sport. He seems to ruffle other drivers’ feathers enough to cause some bad blood (the Kyle Busch fight and Matt Kenseth incident at Martinsville, to name a couple) while pissing off fans in the process. And fans need to be pissed off at times, because it’s better than being apathetic.
Logano is a hard-charging, no apologies driver on the track and a surprisingly warm, friendly personality off it. NASCAR needs him to be contending every week, because he’s a veteran by experience and a young gun by age who can be appealing to both audiences.
He’s back now. And by the way, here’s a guess: Logano will go the rest of his career without a winless streak as long as the 36-race drought he just experienced.
2. Ford goodness sake
Ford is seemingly unstoppable at Talladega. Not only did the manufacturer win its six straight race there, but it had six of the top seven finishers on Sunday.
No one was going to be able to touch the front-running Fords without getting help from other Fords. That sounds weird, but just look at Chevrolet’s Chase Elliott: He was third, but had nothing for the top two unless other Fords pushed him into the mix.
Clearly, Fords are still the ones to beat on restrictor-plate tracks. After all, they’ve now won nine of the last 10 plate races and had a driver (Ryan Blaney) who dominated the other race (the Daytona 500 in February).
That dominance is going to last until at least the end of this year, when the other manufacturers can only hope the new Mustang somehow doesn’t race as well on plate tracks in 2019 as the Fusion does right now.
On the topic of new cars, Sunday was another blow for Chevrolet. After winning 13 straight manufacturer titles from 2003-15, the new Camaro gave Chevy teams so much hope coming into this season.
But now Chevrolet hasn’t won a race since the Daytona 500. Since then, it’s been five wins by Ford and four by Toyota. Talladega would have been a much-needed morale boost for Chevy that ultimately didn’t happen.
3. Shoulda woulda coulda
Speaking of missed opportunities, there’s still only been one winner (Austin Dillon) who is outside the top 16 in points this season.
Every other race winner is at least ninth, and four of this season’s six race winners make up the top four in the standings.
So Talladega was a giant missed chance for an underdog driver to steal a playoff bid. Yeah, there are still the two road courses and Daytona — but seeing Talladega won by a driver who is second in the standings had to be a blow for drivers like Bubba Wallace and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who entered the day thinking they could pull off a win.
On the other hand, it potentially opens another spot available to make the playoffs on points, setting up the next 16 races to be one of the fiercer points battles the midfield has seen in recent years.
4. This message brought to you by frustration
Sunday’s race had the fewest lead changes for a Talladega race since 1998, and FOX missed three of the green-flag lead changes while at commercial. It also missed the first Big One.
The amount of commercials was infuriating and, frankly, insulting to the viewers. FOX continues to disrespect the remaining few NASCAR fans who have stuck around to watch the races, apparently with no intention of making any changes to make the broadcasts more tolerable.
I’m not talking about the talent or the production, either. FOX wants to keep the Grid Walk and Boogity Boogity and the Vortex Theory? Fine, whatever.
The immense frustration here lies with the commercials: SHOW. US. THE. RACE!
Sunday’s broadcast reminded me of a timeshare presentation. They lure you to watch Talladega with promises of excitement and action, then waste your time trying to get you to do something you don’t want — in this case, eating artery-clogging KFC and buying whatever drug helps you recover from your KFC-induced heart attack.
FOX not only seems to air as many commercials as ever, but has “innovated” by inserting all sorts of DVR-proof ads right into the broadcast. But this is Emmy-worthy sports coverage, so what do I know?
Along those lines, it doesn’t matter to FOX what I think and it definitely doesn’t matter what you think. FOX execs have instructed its team to get whatever money it can, and if that allows viewers to see part of the race, then lucky us.
NASCAR has many problems. The relentless amount of commercials being shoved down viewers’ throats is among the most pressing, but is also sadly among the least likely to change.
5. Back to real racing
Up next, it’s the May slate of events: Dover, Kansas and the two Charlotte races. The races will be won by (in no particular order): Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and another Gibbs or Stewart-Haas car.
I’m still particularly interested in the Harvick vs. Busch battle. Two different teams and manufacturers, two drivers at different places in their careers and yet equally hungry for more wins and championships. Plus, it seems like their cars are pretty even for now.
Other than that, the summer is rapidly approaching with NASCAR still starving for one of its young drivers to step up and create a secondary storyline that generates some badly needed interest and enthusiasm.